Decoding Baby Body Language

What those coos and cries really mean. Whether you're a first time mom or not, sometimes a baby's reaction of behaviour can be frightening. We have some tips to decode baby's body language so you can connect with your baby.

When your baby first arrives, you’d gladly sell an arm (or at least your breast pump) to know whether she’s hungry, gassy, tired, uncomfortable or just plain annoyed by all the bright lights. Thankfully, her body language can give you plenty of clues about what she wants and needs from you. Some of those early body signals are hard-wired – more instinctual than intentional – but as she grows a little older and more communicative, she’ll use her body to make her wishes perfectly clear. Here’s a quick guide to baby body language.

“One moment my one-month-old will be almost asleep. Then suddenly, for no reason at all, she’ll fling her arms and legs out and start wailing.”

Your baby is startling in response to a noise or a movement. Try blocking out some of the background noise (a white noise machine works well) and swaddling her in a lightweight blanket so she’ll be less likely to startle herself awake. By the time your baby is five or six months old, she will have outgrown this reflex and be sleeping more soundly. “Five-month-old James can sleep through jackhammer noises from the neighbour’s reno,” notes mom Jenny Lawrence of Toronto.

“If my newborn’s face rubs against my shoulder while I’m carrying him across the room, he starts bobbing his head up and down.”

Your baby is bound and determined to find a breast. He’s just a little off with his geography. When they feel something rubbing the corner of their mouths, hungry or not, infants open up wide and “root” in that direction – turning their heads and forming their mouths into funny lopsided Os – in the hope that a nipple will magically present itself. And often it does!

“My baby has this strange habit of breathing really rapidly and kicking his feet when he’s excited.”

Don’t you love the way babies use their entire bodies to express enthusiasm? If only we grown-ups could cut loose like that a little more often – breathing heavily when we see someone we love and kicking our feet with joy when our favourite veggie finds its way to the dinner table (ok, maybe we would if it was our favourite takeout).

“Sometimes my baby and I will be playing with a toy – and then she’ll start fussing and look away.”

That’s her way of saying, “Hey, it’s been fun, but I’ve had enough.” Respect your baby’s need for a break. See if you can get her down for a nap or – at the very least – put away that too-cool educational toy and ease into a quieter, more soothing activity.

“Sometimes my seven-month-old cries because I can’t get the food to her mouth quickly enough. Other times, I can’t even get her to open her mouth. She’ll turn her face away and ignore me completely.”

Your baby’s appetite varies from one feeding to the next and – like all infants – she knows how to say that dinner is over. “Makenna, 12 months, starts feeding the dog,” says Calgary mom Sharlene McKinnon. “He has a permanent spot next to her high chair.” Learn to read and respect your baby’s fullness cues. She’s the best judge of how much food she needs.

“Yesterday, my eight-month-old started acting sleepy during lunch. By the time she finished she was completely hysterical. Then she wouldn’t take her nap!”

In the world of babies, there’s tired and then there’s overtired. The secret to getting infants to settle down to sleep is to spot the signs before your baby enters the no man’s land of overtiredness: “James starts rubbing his eyes, pulling on his ears, and making this whining noise,” says Lawrence. “That’s when I know it’s time for his nap.” Your little one may also become distracted, start to yawn, suck her thumb or get watery eyes. Trust your instincts and you’ll soon have these, and all your baby’s mysterious signals, sorted out.

What those coos and cries really mean. Whether you’re a first time mom or not, sometimes a baby’s reaction of behaviour can be frightening. We have some tips to decode baby’s body language so you can connect with your baby.


new-baby-ctaThis story is part of our New Baby Guide. Check it out for more info on bringing home, planning for and surviving having a new baby.

Comments are closed.